09 July 2010

Uncommon Commentary #120: Slick Words for a Sick Byrd

In his eulogy of Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, Bill Clinton said that "He once had a fleeting association with [the] Ku Klux Klan, and what does that mean?  I [sic] tell you what it means.  He was a country boy from [the] hills and hollows of West Virginia.  He was trying to get elected.  And maybe he did something he shouldn't have done and he spent the rest of his life making it up."  Presumably this Rhodes scholar meant not "making it up" but "making up for it," but let me begin my assessment of the Failed President's funeral oration. (I refer to the words of Clinton; our current Failed President also said something ridiculously disingenuous about Byrd, replete with cloying pseudo-patriotism, but his remarks are outside the scope of this uncommon commentary.)
1.            What Clinton calls a "fleeting association" with the KKK began in the early 1940's, when Byrd founded a chapter of that organization by recruiting 150 new members, who (unanimously) made him their "Exalted Cyclops" or leader of said chapter; the title seems accidentally appropriate for so monstrous a man who became so powerful a member of the US Senate.  Byrd would later say that he ended his membership "after about a year," but as late as 1946 or 1947 he wrote to a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan that "The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state [sic] in the nation [sic]."
2.            What does Dirty Byrd's having been a country boy, and his "trying to get elected," have to do with his having been a Klansman?  Was Clinton slandering rural West Virginians, by saying that Byrd's environs made him a bigot? Or that racism was so pervasive in the people's hearts and in public debate that he had to pretend to be one in order to get their votes?  There's something wrong with this alibi, anyway: When Byrd joined the Ku Klux Klan, he was under 25 years of age, and thus wasn't even old enough to stand for public office.  Indeed, Byrd said that he never considered a future in politics until a KKK official told him that he had a talent for leadership, and that this happened at age 23 or 24, hence, in 1940 or 1941.  Furthermore, in 1952, when he began his career of corruption by campaigning successfully for a seat in the US House of Representatives, he told the electorate that his participation in the KKK was a thing of the past.
3.            What did Clinton mean, "maybe" (Byrd "did something he shouldn't have done")?
4.            How did Byrd make up for the wrong that he had done: by becoming the congressional "King of Pork?"
It seems to me that it wasn't Byrd but Clinton who was "making it up," that is to say, fabricating offensive nonsense to disguise the reality of the late Senator's failed life.